Oct 222008

OK you should have spotted quite a few characters living on this post :)  Originally there were ‘video-real’ talking, salesy character centered on the page courtesy of CLIVEvideo but I still talk about them more below.

A few months ago I blogged about the new kid on the intranet block, those  ‘layered’ social virtual worlds. Quite simply they are communities of pseudo 3D avatars layered over the 2D web (browsers). I noted that these services are a transition to a ‘live’ collaborative web 3.0 world as this is more of a “let them dip their toes in” before committing to a higher bandwidth, more fully rendered 3D world such as many of those on my sticky video of the 08 metaverse.

I certainly think is the best approach for large numbers who wouldn’t be seen dead or alive in something like Second Life. This is another quick whistle stop tour of a quickly evolving player, Rocketon and also a recent Aussie company who have an alternative approach -  ‘live action’ video layered over the 2D web CLIVEvideo.com. (Incidentally if everything is working you should have had a person talking to you in the middle of this post – if not it may be many months later and things have broken OR some other technical reason I cannot ponder at the moment – IE!). Even though I start by talking about Rocketon and it’s implications, having the privilege of playing with the demo of CLIVEvideo for a while I realised many points are relevant to both – bar the ‘big’ nay huge fact that Rocketon is social (shared, real time and partly pulled) and CLIVE is pre-rendered, pushed and fixed (although they tell me they are working on being a bit more web 2.0).

I have been beta’ing and playing with Rocketon for the past few weeks trying to see how it fitted in with my normal zillion web 2.0/3.0 application lifestyle and finding out where the real attraction is for large numbers to adopt this hybrid paradigm. Firstly it I noticed that with Rocketon in minimize mode, every web page I visited it seemed to be doing something in the background, watching? Spying? Regardless every hour or so it gave me a present – some pixel jewelry, a funny avatar – I have a massive collection of stuff now – what to do with it all and how does an emerald relate to me browsing a ‘map of sydney site’? I have still to work out what is going on with general browsing but two killer apps are evident with Rocketon after a few hours tinkering. 1 – Making existing branded websites fun/sticky and 2 – Making web surfing more social, gamelike and challenging.

The first image you can see above is me and SilkCharm being silly so and so’s dropping Burger King pixel toys on MacDonalds sites (only we can see it of course), but with a larger group like the top image, it starts to have significance…if only in the ‘power’ to do so and the fact that pictures/videos are taken and put on blog posts/flickr/YouTube (ah the old rippling impressions). I also made a quick film of a few of us invading the SMH webpage, partly Laurel and myself showing how ‘communities’ can and will make ‘statements’ – much the same as we do in group based social situations in the real world. The potential for positive product placement, interactive toys, loyalty benefits and so on will not go unnoticed by readers of this post!

But the more interesting element of Rocketon for me is where the community are given the tools to create quests, puzzles or games for each other. To demonstrate the potential of CCG (community created games) the Rocketon team set up a simple quest with pretty easy clues. The process, you are given a mission, you read clues, travel to websites (with the Rocketon layer activated) come back to a base and so on.

The thing I really like about this simple example is that you can embed pixel ‘treasure’ or goods on websites, without any recourse to the website owner of course. (I am sure Rocketon are thinking hard about the legal ramifications of hundreds of RTons heading off to litigeous sites to find inappropriate items and then posting the experience!). Anyways you can see in these two images I have been given a secret envelope and sent to ebay to collect a parcel to post and then await further instructions. Suddenly a couple of web pages turn into a scene from The Thomas Crown Affair.

I have quite a lot more to say about Rocketon and it’s distant cousins such as weblin but time is pressing and lots more to get on with. For the moment though all I can advise them is to enable tools for the community to develop their own fun or for marketeers to start to offer quite tricky quests for real world prizes – I am sure this is happening, it is the only path to really get the numbers up.

So to CLIVEvideo. I have literally been playing with this for less than an hour today after Scott from Maxy’s grabbed me on twitter! It looks very promising. I have seen many variations of this over the years but the implementation of this particular technology is pretty accessible and is squarely aimed at ad agencies, SMEs and larger companies and those who want to differentiate their website and make it a little more viral. As with the points above about Rocketon the real value of having layered personalities over the webpage is to build bridges between the layers (the avatars or video peops relating to what is below them) – or why be there in the first place. CLIVEvideo.com have some great tools to build ‘key’ed’ (invisible backgrounded people) sequences and to also add in sequence applications (person, flash demo, person, page link, person, product video demo etc) and are focused on sales or corporate messages at the moment.

But imagine a future where the keying is from 4-10 people, a webcam community, who start to act a little like we have been doing with Rocketon. Doesn’t have to be full body necessarily, but why not – webcam pointing at users in front of a green or blue screen in their office/bedroom. Then you really have some potential to make the 2D web much more fun and sticky. The applications for marketing, socialising etc start to kick in when you can (like some video chat applications) render pixel elements over the top of the live video image. Ummmm. *rubs hands*… It will certainly be a lot of effort for some, but having specially designed web pages for ‘Keyers’ (as they shall be known) would also provide Google Lively type integration – key yourself live into this and make the branded movie etc etc: This reminds me a little of the fun video I did at AFTRS recently with SilkCharm and lots of invited real people – keye’d into World of Warcraft – that I shall leave you with!

Finally, finally well still on this topic a new player that makes it even easier to meet and chat based on the web page your on is Live World. It’s product LiveBar is basically a ‘chat’ engine that detects the page your on and connects you to others that are also on that page.

Now we will really see how popular some webpages are 🙂

Sep 282008

Have we reached a tipping point – with many more user hours spent with games than films are they now more culturally relevant (as in our cultures are saturated with them)? With most films having ‘game-like’ story arcs and, at the last count, nearly 80 films with stories based on game titles in production I am starting to think so.

Game culture and their inherent stories are now absolutely mass media. In a low risk, and dwindling film business, creating stories around experiences that people have already spent 20-40 hours immersed in the story world, is a no brainer, so what we are seeing is a threshold now of game-like films but more importantly films based on games. Anyway more after the ten minute video – stick with it.

“Playing With Stories” THE CINEMATIC GAME. A Film by GARY HAYES

I am designing curriculum for cinematic games and virtual worlds at AFTRS but also doing another report on the market potential of this cross-media, gilm (game/film) landscape. In the process again I threw together a compilation video of notable examples (I know there are at least ten times this btw!) interspersed with tasty quotations. “The Cinematic Game” was initially designed to be a look at the cross-promotion and story development potential of this most powerful mixed-media marketing machine. But, during the process though I was staggered to see the number of major feature films in production based on new and existing game universes (listed in this post below and scrolling at the end of the video) – suggesting to me a tipping point.

Game story starts to lead film development?

TV and Cinema has already become much more of a background or escapist medium for larger numbers of media consumers. In homes around the world we are spending more time in online pursuits than glued to the content breaks, in-between the advertising slots of traditional TV. We are also immersing ourselves in the social and story ‘exploration’ of the current generation of PC and console games. So how will TV and Film survive in a world where social gaming and associated peer appraisal online is far more compelling? Also given the choice will we continue to passively watch the protagonist or ‘be/live’ the hero? It is interesting to see 8000 employee EA Games now developing major strategies whereby games are made to be easily adapted to comics, books, TV and Film. In the business week article “Morphing Video Games into Movies” they note how EA are trying to emulate small non-game companies have built mini empires on their ‘story IP”

The idea is to repeat the success of companies such as Marvel Entertainment (MVL) and Hasbro (HAS), which used their base of fans to transform from marginal companies into Hollywood players. After licensing Spider-Man to Sony Pictures for a string of hit movies, Marvel has created its own studio, with Iron Man and other films set for release this summer. The Hasbro-backed Transformers movie grossed more than $400 million in 2007 global box-office sales, which in turn boosted company sales of movie-related toys and games.

It is interesting to note that the music industry is also starting to ride the coat tails of the games world. Kotaku reported on a ‘run-in’ between Warner Bros. and Activision about Guitar Hero. Suggesting the music publishers should get more royalties from games that use music, Activision’s boss Bobby Kotick hit back at Warner’s and said the following (which implied as the Kotaku item said ‘Perhaps the record companies should pay us‘)

We’re going to favour those publishers that recognise and appreciate how much we can add value to their artists… in the case of those kinds of products, you should be paying any money at all and whether it should be the reverse.

Back to the main thread of the post, it does make you wonder how many screenplay writers are sitting in front of their XBoxPS3Wii’s looking for inspiration nowadays? Variety suggests that in fact ‘all’ games could be made into movies but I will be really interested in what kind of film comes from The Sims and already know the likely story arc of MassEffect having run through it a couple of times but many others on the list below will be of interest, especially World of Warcraft which has around 4000 story threads/quests – so which story will we be ‘offered’?Films of games have had a shaky past with only a few critical successes such as Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, Resident Evil (there are several on slide 75 of my game/story presentation below, that I did several months ago) but given the serious money and credible directors such as Landau, Lucas, Speilberg, Cameron, Jackson etc: plus a deep desire to properly reflect the integrity of the ‘interactive’ experience, the tide is turning. Being an avid machinima maker I know at first hand what it means to capture the ‘essence’ of game playing, adapt it, reflect it and, if you understand the culture of the game, interpret it – the good thing is A list filmmakers (as you can hear Peter Jackson say at the end of my video) understand it too.

I must again finish with a plug for a couple of unique courses at AFTRS and related to this post an article in one of its blogs RedSet called “What’a film, TV & Radio school doing offering courses in game design and virtual worlds?” makes the relevant point:

“AFTRS new game design and virtual world graduate diplomas will push students to go beyond the generation of clichéd actions and stereotypical characters, students of these new courses will be encouraged to step up and learn how to create meaningful interactive experiences for a variety of platforms informed by the expertise offered in all of the other creative disciplines taught at AFTRS such as directing, screen composition, screenwriting, sound design, production design and more. The field of game design and interactive experiences is equally as collaborative as the world of filmmaking, drawing together diverse specialists who together create the whole – writers, screen composers, programmers, animators, art directors – at AFTRS all of these disciplines are already housed under one roof – with a track record of cross disciplinary interaction and a staggering successful graduates.”

More about my video

A non-exhaustive compilation of story rich games or gamic films including in order of appearance: Contact, Indiana Jones, Heavy Rain, The Game, Burning Crusade, Max Payne, The Matrix, Heavenly Sword, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Ironman, Call of Duty 4, Simone, Rage, Tron, Bicentennial Man, SpiderMan 3, War of the Worlds, Tomb Raider, I am Alive, WoW Lich King, Indigo Prophesy, Jumanji, Desperate Housewives, Da Vinci Code, The Beach, Assassins Creed, Thomas Crown Affair, CSI, Halo, Resident Evil, James Bond, Sleuth, Afrika, The Godfather, The Cube, Narnia, Time Bandits, The Golden Compass, Half Life, Never Winter Nights, Silent Hill, Hellgate, Beowulf and interviews with George Lucas and Peter Jackson plus quotes from many film directors and games designers

My film contains some of the better hybrids, either films inspired by games, games inspired by films or just very rich cinematic, story or character rich games. I make no excuses that I have used a mixture of cut scenes as well as ‘real’ game play in the video – that is really to show where we are heading as game graphics continues to hurtle towards the real time equivalent of the likes of Beowulf and other ‘trickle’ rendered CG features. After the quotes and textual references from the compilation below, are more elements on this very exiting hybrid cross-story, cross-IP, cross-reality world.

I want gamers to be surprised by their own creativity. I want players to feel not like Luke Skywalker, but George Lucas Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

We’re way beyond the notion of game-as-brand-extending afterthought. Let the virtual world–the vibrant, living world that people inhabit–let that influence the movie. Let it feed back into the process and provide unparalleled riches and depth to what we’re doing
John Landau (Titanic)

Games are already good at creating fear, suspense, excitement, shocked surprise, and laughter. Much rarer are games that create genuine sadness … I have never cried during a videogame
Marc Laidlaw (Half-Life)

I think the real indicator will be when somebody confesses that they cried at level 17
Steven Spielberg

When I found out one of my guildmates had died, someone with whom I had fought monsters, explored exotic lands, shared moments of jubilation and defeat, I wept. In spite of having never met him, the knowledge that we would not continue the story together, brought me great grief.
Laurel Papworth

We had a notion to take the stars of the movies and have them play supportive roles in the video game and tell a story that is a companion story to the movies
Joel Silver (Matrix)

If done well, I don’t believe a videogame itself can detract from a film experience. Ideally, it would be a complement to the film and a way for fans to further involve themselves in a world once they leave the cinema
Peter Jackson, (King Kong, Lord of the Rings)

There are scenes that start in the video game and will complete the movie – ¦and fell like it’s a part and experience of the movie
Joel Silver (Matrix)

Games and MMOs in particular are providing such a sustaining experience that challenges us to make the theatrical experience better
John Landau (Titanic)

The next big emotional breakthrough in gaming is being able to tell a story that is consistent throughout the narrative. If the game is 15 levels, it’s just like 15 chapters in a story
Steven Spielberg

We’re trying to understand the language of the film, but diverge in ways that are right for the game medium.
Neil Young’ EA VP (Lord of the Rings)

Games sometimes can reveal things. To watch someone in movement, unconscious movement, can be very stimulating and revealing, whether they win or not.
John Turturro (actor)

People wonder why games don’t have the same emotional palette as movies. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. It’s like saying, ‘Why isn’t radio like reading a book?’ Games, inherently, have a different emotional palette, which is their strength
Will Wright (Sims, Spore)

Scroll at the end of the compilation:

FILMS BASED ON GAMES IN Development or Production 2008/9 (Wikipedia and IGN source)

Alone in the Dark 2
American McGee’s Alice
Area 51
Battle Royale
Biohazard: Degeneration
BloodRayne III: Warhammer
Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
Citizen Siege
City of Heroes
Clock Tower
Cold Fear
Crazy Taxi
Deus Ex
Devil May Cry
Doom 2
Dragon’s Lair
Duke Nukem
Earthworm Jim
Eternal Darkness
Eternity’s Child
Far Cry
Fatal Frame
Fear Effect
Gears of War
God of War
Hunter: The Reckoning
Jagged Alliance
Kane & Lynch
Legend: Hand of God
Lost Planet
Mass Effect
Metal Gear Solid
Mortal Kombat: Devastation
The Neverhood
Nightmare Creatures
Ninja Gold
Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Rainbow Six
Resident Evil IV
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Sabotage 1943
Silent Hill 2
The Sims
Soul Calibur
Sonic the Hedgehog
Spy Hunter
Street Fighter:
The Legend of Spyro
The Sims
The Suffering
The Unforgettable
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Tomb Raider III
Warcraft (based on World of Warcraft)
Zombie Massacre

Mixed Reality Futures

As a lead into a post about to be published I have been talking for a couple of years now (The Mixed Reality Perfect Storm ) about the fantastic potential of the live and by implication shared TV experience to be enhanced by extending the world into online games. It is exciting to think where we will be in a few years once the ‘broadcasters & studios’ realise that keeping an audience involved in the ‘IP’/programme in-between airings or sequels is a good thing. Good for the story creators, the latent creative audience and of course advertisers who need eyeballs/hands/ears/minds and hearts.

A further afterthought there are several companies around the world developing Cross-Reality forms, one that I am heavily involved with‚ The Format Factory, are pioneering formats that bridge the space between compelling participatory TV/Film and online game worlds. They have a promotional video that metaphorically demonstrates some of the ’embedded’ world-within-worlds. A trailer video teaser for the mixed reality, inhabited TV formats being pioneered and piloted by The Format Factory.

Other posts on this topic: